Why meditate

Updated On — 27th Dec, 2012

I think that from time to time we need to remind ourselves why we meditate.It’s so easy to forget. It seems everything and nearly everyone conspires in this forgetting. That is why we come to places where for a short time at least we set aside the iPhones with all their charming and ever-intriguing apps to enter into remembrance. Laurence Freeman, OSB, in a question and answer session I recently heard on-line, was asked why one should bother with meditation. He paused for some moments before answering his questioner. “Because time is so short,” was his answer.

In meditation we unhook the mind. The mind of anxiety, doubts, craving, and compulsiveness.

The mind I am speaking of is primarily one-dimensional and is characterized by what psychologists call primary process thinking. This mind is so familiar to meditators, it’s what we wade through in the process of settling the mind on the breath: the seemingly incessant push and pull of liking and disliking, of self adoration and defamation, of planning and remembering (often with ego-affirming revisions).

The tragedy is that is mind is unfamiliar to most people, whose lives are often lived in its clutches.

We unhook this mind by returning again and again to the breath (or our chosen object of meditation).

We stop picking at our wounds so they can finally heal.

As long as we remain caught up in the one-dimensional energy of ego consciousness we  keep flying right past the eternal now in which we can find true comfort and rest.

This eternal now is beyond the reach of the mind, yet it does not require immense effort to reach, because it’s always right here and now.

It’s simply a matter of a little patience, and some regular periods of mediation practice, over time. And over time, meditation, when practiced consistently, can evoke subtle alterations of consciousness which bring one to a place that offers the least resistance to real, lasting change.

from The Four Quartets (Burnt Norton) y T.S. Eliot

And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate, With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate – but there is no competition – There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Each time we sit down to meditate is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate … in the general mess of imprecision of feeling.

The conditions we face never seem appropriate. We put off meditation until we feel better or have more energy or more time.

But, for us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

The trying is simply our consistent efforts to regularly show up for meditation, in our home, on the bed before going to sleep, or in some other place.

The place we make our efforts to reach is like the center of a hub of a wheel.

We can only bring ourselves to the center; the center acts on us over time.

How it does this is really not our concern, not our business.

We can’t make the center change us, we can only do our part to get there, to a place where there is the least resistance to allow this real and lasting change to take place.

This change, this lasting peace, cannot be induced, or forced, or willed in any way. It can only be received.

It’s an outbreak of peace.

Don’t worry about, theorize, or read about it. Just bring yourself to the center.

Once a day.

Over time our daily practice starts to infuse our life. Some days it’s like an low level underwater explosion, only heard and felt inside. Other days it seems like nothing is happening.

And it is.

That nothing, which is the stillness at the center of the wheel, is happening

That nothing, oddly, is like a compass–it shows us where center is.

I agree with Laurence Freeman. We can’t afford to waste a minute. The sooner we connect to the center, the better.

What keeps us from this outbreak of peace, this lasting change we all seek?

Again, nothing.

Nothing except ideas in our mind that this center is far way, or that we aren’t worthy, or smart enough, or … the list is endless).

These are the ideas constantly generated in the mind we unhook everyday.

This surely a good use of our time.

James Finley remarked once that taking the time to transcend the tyranny of time is time well spent.

Please explore a re-commitment to your true self for real, lasting peace.  That’s what we’re here to help you do.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

7 thoughts on “Why meditate”

  1. Yes, one can’t tell to what degree your life as you experience it now (especially with respect to doing vs not-apparently doing spiritual practice) is a result if your prior meditation practice of many, many years. To tell the truth, when my first child was born 12 years ago I completely gave up any formal mediation practice, and have only haltingly returned to it. And now, after a dozen yeas off the cushion I find I don’t really find much benefit to it. I do, though, need to motivate beginners, that’s my job here, so I do say that a regular sitting practice is important.
    On the “nuts and bolts” page on this blog I mention, in Phase Two, direct techniques that do not involve sustained sitting meditation, taken from the so-called “direct path” teachings of Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi and Atmananda Krishna Menon. These have been the most useful to me, and I fond I use them throughout the day in short bursts of inquiry, lasting only a few seconds–which allow me to re-cognize and settle into the natural state of ease and joy.
    I suspect the link between your many years on the cushion and your current insights are stronger than you may appreciate–but who cares?
    Your writing is lean and gorgeous.

  2. I’ve tried to work out if I agree with what you have written, but am unable. I meditated for an hour every day for thirty years, and in retrospect it was grim. Life has been wonderful in the eight years since I’ve stopped. Is that the result of having done the meditation, or having realized that it never suited me? Or perhaps I have changed it for a different kind of meditation: one based on fresh air, contemplating clouds and feeling unity with everyone.

    Laurence Freeman says meditate because time is so short. In contrast I would advocate not turning one’s senses inwards, not turning away from life while we are alive, because life is so short.

    It’s true that the mind is our worst enemy. But I can overcome it by accepting the superior wisdom of the body, my greatest friend, Nature incarnate. As a human animal accepting his own nature, I am brother to all, at peace with myself, subject to life’s pains and insecurities like every creature. Gautama freaked out at the sight of old age, disease and death, wanted to know how to transcend. I cannot understand that any more. I don’t want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. I just want to be one with everyone else, accepting the fate of being mortal, sharing the suffering that comes from being incarnate.

    As I hinted above, I can’t tell to what extent all those years of meditation may have contributed to the way I see things now. I don’t think there’s a direct link, actually. But how can one tell?

  3. The website has become such a resource, Tom. Nice to see people are linking to it from over the ocean. It really is laid out nicely, and, for me, the bus wheel photo is a striking page anchor.

    Good efforts :)!

  4. Happily, I just discovered your beautiful blog through a WordPress “related links” feature that popped up automatically at my own blog on a recent post.

    “Why Meditate?” and some of the other posts I’ve glanced at really speak to my heart. Namaste! I’ve added your feed to my news reader and looking forward to your new posts and perusing your old ones.

    With all best wishes,

  5. Thanks very much Katie. I would just like to say that I am absolutely not worthy of these comments (just ask my wife!). I am just trying to share what rings true with me, so in this sense, this is a rather selfish project! Thanks for your support.

  6. It is tremendous the coincidence (or divinity) in which you speak into my life. Just yesterday my husband and I uncovered some truths about ourselves while reading “The Psychology of Happiness” by Robert Elias Najemy (if you have not heard of Najemy I strongly suggest, to everyone, that you YouTube him and watch some of his video series and DEFINITELY pick up this book).

    Your blog resonates the same notions we discovered during our study of the book. It has brought me one step closer to that “place” of total peace and understanding for which we all yearn. I just wanted to thank you for helping to teach us, we simpletons, and sharing your wisdom in such an accessible format. The first few lines of the T.S. Eliot quote were entirely eye-opening, not to mention so filled with beauty. I quite probably would never have been exposed to it without your post. To me, such bits are invaluable and you insert them into all of your posts. I just love it!

    Thanks again. I increasingly look forward to your future posts!


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